April 29, 2015

More women in the ICT sector – it pays off!

By Magdalena Gaj

Marie Curie–Sklodowska, a distinguished Polish chemist, mother and the first female professor at the Sorbonne, was a passionate scientist who made a scientific career achievable for countless girls around the world. She was awarded two Nobel Prizes in a century when only men gained public recognition for scientific research.

Nevertheless, almost a hundred years later, the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) remains a challenge, influencing both social and economic progress.

The under-representation of women in technology has been taken up by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) which has identified this as an important issue to redress. During the 2010 Plenipotentiary Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, the Union’s membership agreed that International Girls in ICT Day would celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every April. It created an opportunity to raise awareness among young women and girls of the opportunities a professional future in information and communication technologies (ICT) and studies in STEM fields can offer, and most importantly, helps to combat cultural or socially-predominant stereotypes. To date, celebrations have engaged over 111, 000 girls and women globally. More than 3,500 events have taken place in 140 countries – with hundreds more expected to be added to the total by the end of this month.

The lack of women in the technology industry is not a problem of selected countries or regions, it is a global issue. The call for bridging the gender gap in computer science and new technologies has been addressed on international, national and entrepreneurial levels. Supporting the education of women and girls in the ICT sector is also in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goal 3.

ITU estimates that there are 200 million fewer women than men active online. The future of women in technology and innovation has never before been more important and timely. Because while women are under-represented in many industries, not all sectors will influence the future as much as ICT and innovation.

The ICT sector needs to attract more women because it is beneficial to both the economy and society. According to Intel, bringing 600 million additional women online could boost global GDP by up to USD 18 billion.

Many jobs of the future have not been invented yet. We cannot be sure what those future jobs will actually look like but one fact is clear – they will all require ICT skills.

Three years ago in Poland I launched a social project called “Girls in New Technologies”. This initiative consists of an annual conference and contest for female students of technical faculties at national universities. Girls who participate in this competition have the unique opportunity to win an internship in a selected partner company. Many students can only dream about a job in a global high-tech corporation – so this has already changed the lives of many young girls in Poland. I dream that one day it will become a global best practice.

Changing stereotypes should start at an early stage at schools. Introducing coding into a school curriculum, technical and engineering studies to female high school students and promoting this educational path as interesting and attractive can bring beneficial effects in the long run.

Tech companies have already noticed that the lack of gender diversity is holding back innovation. Many of them are adjusting their policies in order to attract more female talent. Some of them are introducing mentoring and coaching for female employees, providing them with a roadmap for personal development.

However, changes take time and there is still plenty to do.

The information and technology industry is the bloodstream of our modern economy and no country will be able to operate without it, as it makes an increasingly important contribution to the economic growth of both advanced and developing economies. The sector is growing rapidly, creating thousands of new jobs each year. It is a driving force in economic development and wider social change. I want women to have a share of this pie.

The ICT sector cannot afford to waste 50 per cent of its potential talent by excluding or discouraging women to step in.  Governments and other institutions must play a larger role in enabling innovation and encouraging women to participate in technological advancement. Celebrating International Girls in ICT is the first step to creating a global environment to discuss the importance of empowering women though new technologies.

This blog is adapted from an article posted in the SAMENA Trends Newsletter, published with the permission of the author. Read the original article here.

Magdalena Gaj
Magdalena Gaj – tweeting at @GajMagdalena – is a qualified legal adviser, an expert in telecommunication law, and the President of the National Regulatory Authority in Poland. She was the key leader in the digitization process in Poland, who smoothly carried out the switch-off from analogue to digital TV. She co-authored the National Broadband Plan and actively engages in promoting women in the ICT sector. From 2009 to 2012 she was the Deputy Minister responsible for the telecom market.
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More women in the ICT sector – it pays off!

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